The Office goes to Israel

By Jan Shure, April 2, 2009
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From Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, actors are ironing their polyester business shirts, scouring eBay for second-hand C&A suits and learning how to knot a necktie properly.

They will be bidding to play the Israeli counterparts of David Brent, Gareth Keenan, Tim Canterbury, Dawn Tinsley, Chris Finch and the rest of the team from the Slough branch of timber merchants Wernham Hogg.

Yes, Israel is to air its own version of The Office, Ricky Gervais’s hit sitcom, after BBC Worldwide licensed the format to the Israeli satellite broadcaster Yes-DBS.

Chile, Canada, France and Russia have all created their own version of the hit format devised by Gervais and co-writer Stephen Merchant. The US also produces its own version, starring Steve Carell in Gervais’s role, the know-it-all office manager David Brent.

Ricky Gervais welcomed the Israeli deal, telling the JC: “In the original Office I played a stocky little middle-aged boss with a beard who wanted to be famous and thought he was funny.  Now we have to find the Jewish equivalent. I suggest Sir Alan Sugar.”

July-August Productions, a Tel Aviv-based company, will make the 15 episodes, due to air from April next year. The production company, which makes TV features, documentaries and feature films, was responsible for the multi-award winning film The Band’s Visit.

The Israeli version — to be called Ha Misrad, a direct translation — will be based in an office-supply firm in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikvah, with the character of David Brent transformed to Avi Meshulam. Other “types”, as yet unnamed, will include an Arab warehouse manager, an embittered Russian accountant and a strictly Orthodox saleswoman. The show will start production in November, according to producer Eilon Tatskovsky.

Eleven of the episodes will be based on the British version, with the remaining ones created by the Israeli writer Uzi Weill. He wrote the hit Israeli series In Treatment, bought by US broadcaster HBO, now in its second series. Its director, Eitan Zur, will direct Ha Misrad.

Mr Tatskovsky said they were extremely enthusiastic about the new series: “People in Israel adore The Office — both the British and the US versions, both shown here. Everybody is looking forward to seeing how we produce it, and looking forward to seeing it.”

He said they had not yet begun casting, “but we are getting hundreds of emails and calls. Every actor in Israel wants to be in it”.

    Last updated: 4:26pm, April 2 2009